Monday, March 15, 2021

Satoko Fujii - HAZUKI (March 19, 2021 via Libra Records)

Pianist-composer Satoko Fujii Takes a Musical Journey at Home
on Her New Solo Album

“She could be the most important creative musician of our time.” ― Michael Nastos, AllMusic

“Over the decades, Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii has demonstrated uncanny power and musicality . . . This music is infused with a wide-open spirit.” — Josef Woodard, DownBeat


Pianist-composer Satoko Fujii normally spends months on the road each year, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made touring impossible. On her new solo album, Hazuki, she lets the music travel for her. Throughout the course of the pandemic, Fujii has remained committed to her creativity and artistic growth and determined to present her music, even if she can’t do it before a live audience. Recorded at home in her piano practice room, Hazuki is buoyant in the face of adversity, playfully imaginative, and as adventurous as all her albums typically are. It is one of her most delightful and engaging solo outings.

Recording from home did present one advantage for Fujii. “I have been playing my piano for more than 45 years. We know each other well,” she says. “I never expected that I would record on it, but the COVID-19 situation forced me into doing it. On tour, I play a different piano at each concert. Sometimes I ‘meet’ annoying pianos, sometimes I ‘meet’ really great pianos. It’s a gamble. But I have to tell you that it is easy for me to play my piano because I already know it very well.”

The mental preparation for recording in the apartment she shares with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, presented an unexpected challenge. “When I’m on tour, I get in a touring mode. But being at home is being in daily life mode. I had to concentrate to get myself in “making music mode” in the middle of my daily life. For instance, when I did my streaming concerts, I went into the piano room and performed and after I came out from the room, which is very close to the kitchen, Natsuki was cooking! It was a very strange feeling.”
Perhaps the most challenging circumstance was a physical one. “I recorded the album in August,” Fujii says. “The weather was extremely hot, in the 90s. I don’t have an air conditioner in my piano room, and I need to close the door so the sound doesn’t disturb the neighbors. So in the small piano room, I was sweating. I put an ice pad on my neck and that helped a bit.” She commemorates these arduous conditions in the title of the album—“Hazuki” is an old Japanese word for “August.”

What emerged from these unusual conditions is one of Fujii’s most diverse and ebullient solo albums. “Invisible” starts out the album with some of her most imaginative and varied playing inside the piano alternating with a haunting keyboard phrase. She then begins altering the phrase, repeating it with most variations and embellishing it. The music is lively, but deliberately developed. On “Hoffen” (German for “hope”), she also delves inside the piano, seamlessly integrating piano wires and keyboard in delicate melodies that grow more lyrical and rhapsodic. “Quarantined” develops a natural flow of long weaving lines interrupted by knots of dense chords. “Beginning” is similar, with a long sinuous right-hand line punctuated by occasional left-hand chords that throw kinks in it.

Some of the compositions play around with musical ideas. “Cluster” puns on the term for an occurrence of disease outbreaks called “corona clusters” and the musical device of note clusters, the striking of several notes that are close together. The performance is built of ringing note clusters carefully placed so the overtones created become part of the music. It’s intensely concentrated with every gesture furthering the creation of a unique musical vocabulary. When she composed “Expanding,” Fujii deliberately limited the notes and intervals she could use as a way to create a new vocabulary. The dramatic performance stays focused on short, rhythmically charged phrases that build tension and momentum.

Critics and fans alike hail pianist and composer Satoko Fujii as one of the most original voices in jazz today. She’s “a virtuoso piano improviser, an original composer and a bandleader who gets the best collaborators to deliver," says John Fordham in The Guardian. In concert and on more than 90 albums as a leader or co-leader, she synthesizes jazz, contemporary classical, avant-rock, and folk musics into an innovative style instantly recognizable as hers alone. A prolific band leader and recording artist, she celebrated her 60th birthday in 2018 by releasing one album a month from bands old and new, from solo to large ensemble. Franz A. Matzner in All About Jazz likened the twelve albums to “an ecosystem of independently thriving organisms linked by the shared soil of Fujii's artistic heritage and shaped by the forces of her creativity.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, she has recorded two albums and a third one, a duet with Natsuki Tamura, is on the way.
Over the years, Fujii has led some of the most consistently creative ensembles in modern improvised music, including her trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black and an electrifying avantrock quartet featuring drummer Tatsuya Yoshida of The Ruins. Her ongoing duet project with husband Natsuki Tamura released their sixth recording, Kisaragi, in 2017. “The duo's commitment to producing new sounds based on fresh ideas is second only to their musicianship,” says Karl Ackermann in All About Jazz. Aspiration, a CD by an ad hoc quartet featuring Wadada Leo Smith, Tamura, and Ikue Mori, was released in 2017 to wide acclaim. “Four musicians who regularly aspire for greater heights with each venture reach the summit together on Aspiration,” writes S. Victor Aaron in Something Else. As the leader of no less than five orchestras in the U.S., Germany, and Japan (two of which, Berlin and Tokyo, released new CDs in 2018), Fujii has also established herself as one of the world’s leading composers for large jazz ensembles, leading Cadence magazine to call her, “the Ellington of free jazz.”

Satoko Fujii - piano

Maria Schneider Wins Two Grammy Awards

RAILBLAZING COMPOSER AND ORCHESTRA LEADER 
MARIA SCHNEIDER  WINS TWO GRAMMY AWARDS

“Best Instrumental Composition” for “Sputnik” from Data Lords
“Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album” for Data Lords

“On the whole and in the details, it amounts to the most daring work of Schneider's career, which sets the bar imposingly high. This is music of extravagant mastery, and it comes imbued with a spirit of risk.” – Nate Chinen, NPR Music
Boundary-defying composer and orchestra leader Maria Schneider has won two Grammy Awards: Best Instrumental Composition for “Sputnik,” and Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album for her revelatory double album Data Lords. Inspired by conflicting relationships between the digital and natural worlds, Data Lords (July 2020, ArtistShare) features the world-class Maria Schneider Orchestra.

“I’m so grateful for both of these Grammys,” said Schneider. “This album has the indelible mark of every individual in the band — their unique sounds, phrasing, expression, and improvisations. I couldn’t be more grateful for these 18 musicians and for the fans that helped make this record possible. I know with these awards we are all especially thinking of our pianist Frank Kimbrough whom we lost this year.  

When they said on the Grammys that we’ve lost close to 1000 musicians in this last year, I was shocked. It’s a year of such tremendous loss for the music world and world at large.”

Schneider, who has now earned seven Grammy Awards to date, is among a small few to receive Grammys in multiple genres. In 2004, Concert in the Garden became historic as the first recording to win a Grammy with Internet-only sales. Even more significantly, it blazed the "crowd-funding" trail as ArtistShare’s first release, and was eventually inducted into the 2019 National Recording Registry. Schneider has continued to “fan-fund” her recordings and commissions ever since.

Data Lords has earned broad critical acclaim including the #1 spot in the 2020 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, as well as a place as one of the year’s best albums from Rolling Stone, Slate, Paste, Pop Matters, The Guardian, Chicago Tribune, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Boston Globe, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Leader, Denver Post, JazzTimes, Jazziz and many more.

“Now it's finally here, in the form of a magnificent double album, Data Lords. . . it parses into thematic halves, ‘The Digital World’ and, as an antidote, ‘The Natural World.’ On the whole and in the details, it amounts to the most daring work of Schneider's career, which sets the bar imposingly high. This is music of extravagant mastery, and it comes imbued with a spirit of risk." – Nate Chinen, NPR

“Beyond the dualism in its format, Data Lords is a work of holistic creativity. The music of outrage and critique in the first album has all the emotion and conceptual integrity that the music of melancholy and reverence does in the second. I can’t conceive of anyone else creating this music, unless Delius has been writing with Bowie on the other side.” – David Hajdu, The Nation 

“Data Lords…is her magnum opus, a riveting, remarkably intense double album, as profound as modern-day instrumental music gets.” – Jon Bream, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Data Lords is a major piece of work....The message, the rancour, the sense of injustice are deeply embedded in every moment of the first album. And yet Schneider’s craft and judgment are such that music in the eerie, dystopian world has the marvellous feeling for structure, pacing and often sheer beauty that listeners who know Schneider’s music will be expecting….The second disc Our Natural World is a complete contrast. It is epic, glorious.” – Sebastian Scotney, TheArtsDesk.com

“Throughout, Schneider’s orchestral music reminds us of the virtuosity of her pen, the richness of her imagination and her extraordinary attention to instrumental detail.” – Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune

“Data Lords is a boldly conceptual immersion in a critical duality of modern life…” – David Fricke, JazzTimes cover story

“Maria Schneider is the most brilliant big-band composer of our time, a master of stacked harmonies but also of propulsive rhythms, which she laces with stirring Americana or a Latin tinge… No one scores inner voices as rich as hers.” – Fred Kaplan, Slate

“The prodigiously gifted composer, arranger, and bandleader Maria Schneider has a whole lot on her mind these days, and much of it has made its way into her impressive new double CD, Data Lords.… she exhibits a masterly control of bold and inventive tonal landscapes and subtler orchestral shadings.” – Steve Futterman, The New Yorker
Maria Schneider’s music has been hailed by critics as evocative, majestic, magical, heart-stoppingly gorgeous, imaginative, revelatory, riveting, daring, and beyond categorization. Blurring the lines between genres, her varied commissioners stretch from Jazz at Lincoln Center, to The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, to the American Dance Festival, and include collaboration with David Bowie. 

With her first recording Evanescence (1994), Schneider began developing her personal way of writing for her 18-member collective made up of many of the finest musicians in jazz today, tailoring her compositions to the uniquely creative voices of the group. They have performed at festivals and concert halls worldwide, and she herself has received numerous commissions and guest-conducting invites, working with over 90 groups in more than 30 countries.

In addition to her Grammy Awards, Schneider’s many awards include the nation's highest honor in jazz, “NEA Jazz Master”, election into the 2020 American Academy of Arts and Sciences, numerous Jazz Journalists Association awards, DownBeat and JazzTimes Critics and Readers Poll awards, an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, the University of Minnesota, ASCAP’s esteemed Concert Music Award (2014), and, most recently, Le Grand Prix de l’Académie du Jazz for Data Lords.

A strong voice for music advocacy, Schneider has testified before the US Congressional Subcommittee on Intellectual Property on digital rights, has given commentary on CNN, participated in roundtables for the United States Copyright Office, has been quoted in numerous publications for her views on Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, Google, digital rights, and music piracy, and has written various white papers and articles on the digital economy as related to music and beyond. Musicians have been the canary in the coal mine,” Schneider says. “We were the first to be used and traded for data.

Data Lords is available exclusively at Mariaschneider.com

Maria Schneider Grammy Award History
 
• 2021 – Best Instrumental Composition – Sputnik 
 
• 2021 – Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album – Data Lords  
 
• 2015 – Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album – The Thompson Fields
 
• 2015 – Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals – Sue (Or In a Season of Crime) Collaboration with David Bowie.
 
• 2013 – Best Contemporary Classical Composition – Winter Morning Walks
The album also won awards in the categories of Best Classical Vocal Solo (Dawn Upshaw) and Best Engineered Album, Classical (David Frost, Brian Losch & Tim Martyn, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer).  
 
• 2007 – Best Instrumental Composition – Cerulean Skies from Sky Blue
 
• 2004 – Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album – Concert in the Garden
Schneider made history with her first Grammy for Concert In the Garden, the first album with Internet-only sales to receive a Grammy. The album was released through ArtistShare, the first Internet-crowd-funding label/site in existence.  And significantly, Concert In the Garden was also the first “crowd-funded” album to win a Grammy, before the term “crowd-funding” was even invented.  At that time, ArtistShare had labeled it “fan-funding.” Schneider has continued to “fan-fund” her recordings and commissions ever since.

March 22-24: Celebrating Ran Blake’s 85th Birthday at NEC

NEC’s CI Department celebrates Chair Emeritus Ran Blake’s 85th birthday

Monday, March 22 – Wednesday, March 24

Portrait of Ran Blake: Celebrating 85 Years features concert with Blake, NEC faculty and students as well as interviews with music historian Robin D.G. Kelley and performer/educator Hankus Netsky
New England Conservatory’s Department of Contemporary Improvisation celebrates Chair Emeritus Ran Blake with Portrait of Ran Blake: Celebrating 85 Years including interviews and concert, Monday, March 22 – Wednesday, March 24, 2021.  

An internationally acclaimed performer, recording artist and MacArthur Fellow, Blake has been a pioneering teacher at NEC for more than 50 years. His teaching style emphasizes “the primacy of the ear,” an approach that values listening and promotes innovation and individuality. The Newest Sound Around, his 1962 RCA recording with vocalist Jeanne Lee, is an enduring classic, and he’s continued his groundbreaking work with vocalists including NEC alums Sara Serpa, Christine Correa and faculty member Dominique Eade. Blake also conceived the popular annual Film Noir concert series at NEC.

Streaming events include:

Monday, March 22, 7:30 p.m. EST – Interview: "Looking Back at Eighty-Five"
Renowned music historian Robin D.G. Kelley interviews Ran Blake about his life and musical legacy.  Aaron Hartley, producer/videographer.  For more information and to stream the event go to...
Tuesday, March 23, 7:30 p.m. EST – Interview: "Adding Spice"
Hankus Netsky and Ran Blake reflect on Ran's innovative approach to listening, teaching and performing. Aaron Hartley, producer/videographer. For more information and to stream the event go to...
Wednesday, March 24 at 7:30 p.m. EST – Concert featuring Blake, NEC Faculty and Students
The performance, pre-recorded at Jordan Hall, features Blake in performance with faculty members and students.  For program information and to stream the event go to...
Produced by CI Department Co-Chair Eden MacAdam-Somer, the March 24 concert features reinterpretations of Ran’s music along with original student compositions/improvisations created as the soundtrack to scenes from The Pawnbroker and Portrait of Jennie. Performers include current students Delfina Cheb-Terrab, Emily Mitchell, Joseph Van-Leeuwen, Shalun Li, Rihards Kolamis, Caleb Schmale, Lyra Montoya, Griffin Woodard, Matthew Shifrin, Grace Ward, and Lucy Little, along with the CI Chamber Ensemble, CI faculty members Eden MacAdam-Somer and Anthony Coleman, and a special solo set by Ran Blake.
ABOUT RAN BLAKE
In a career spanning nearly six decades, pianist/composer Ran Blake has created a unique niche in improvised music as an artist and educator. With a characteristic mix of spontaneous solos, modern classical tonalities, the great American blues and gospel traditions, and classic film noir themes, Blake’s singular sound has earned a dedicated following around the world. His musical legacy includes more than 40 albums on some of the world’s finest jazz labels, and more than 50 years as a groundbreaking educator at New England Conservatory, where he was the founding chair of the Contemporary Improvisation department (previously called Third Stream), from 1972 through 2005, and continues to teach full-time. His innovative teaching approach, known as "the primacy of the ear," emphasizes the listening process and long-term memory rather than sheet music.
 
Blake discovered film noir at age 11 when he first saw Robert Siodmak’s “The Spiral Staircase.” The genre, which Blake found “eerie, haunting, and unforgettable,” would leave an indelible mark on Blake’s art. The Pentecostal church music he discovered as a teenager also influenced his music. He and vocalist Jeanne Lee, a fellow Bard College student, formed a duo in the late 1950s, and in 1962 released RCA’s landmark recording The Newest Sound Around, which won the 1963 RCA Album First Prize in Germany and the 1980 Prix Billie Holiday and is included in the Académie du Jazz. That album was encouraged by Blake’s most significant mentor and champion, Gunther Schuller, who Blake met by chance at an Atlantic Records’ studio in 1959. Schuller invited Blake to study at the Lenox School of Jazz with luminaries including Oscar Peterson, Bill Russo, and others. Other teachers included Mary Lou Williams, Mal Waldron, Bill Evans, John Lewis, Max Roach, Oscar Peterson, and Stan Kenton.
 
In the late 1960s, Schuller invited Blake to join the faculty at New England Conservatory, where the two created the Third Stream Department, now known as the Contemporary Improvisation Department.
 
In 1988, Blake was recognized as a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. He has performed around the world, collaborating and recording with artists including George Russell, Steve Lacy, Rufus Reid, Jaki Byard, Anthony Braxton, Andrew Hill, Jimmy Giuffre, Houston Person, Ricky Ford, and Danilo Perez. Many of his acclaimed recordings are tributes to artists like Thelonious Monk, Sarah Vaughn, Horace Silver, George Gershwin, and Duke Ellington. Recent recordings include Ghost Tones: Portraits of George Russell (2015), Live at the Kitano with Sara Serpa (2015), Down Here Below: A Tribute to Abbey Lincoln with Christine Correa (2015), Chabrol Noir: A Tribute to Claude Chabrol with Ricky Ford (2016), Town and Country with Dominique Eade (2017), Streaming with Christine Correa (2018), and The Newest Sound You Never Heard: European Recordings 1966-67 (2019).
 
Blake continues to evolve his noir language on the piano and remains active in teaching, recording, touring, and writing. A recent DownBeat review said, “Ran Blake is so hip it hurts…a pianist who can make you laugh at his dry humor one second and wring a tear the next.”
 
NEC’s Contemporary Improvisation program addresses the unique needs of musicians seeking to move beyond traditional boundaries. The department brings together an extremely diverse group of the world’s finest young artists in a setting where they can truly grow as a community of composers, performers, and improvisers. With an emphasis on ear training, technique, conceptual ideas, interdisciplinary collaboration, and a wide range of improvisational traditions, the CI program is uniquely positioned to produce the complete 21st century global musician. Founded in 1972 by Gunther Schuller and Ran Blake, the department is “a thriving hub of musical exploration,” (Jeremy Goodwin, Boston Globe).

Keith Jarrett | Sun Bear Concerts | ECM: Pre-order Now (March 19, 2021 ECM)

AVAILABLE NOW FOR PRE-ORDER

40 Years after its Original Release,

 Keith Jarrett’s Sun Bear Concerts is Recreated

from Original Analog Sources

for Limited Edition of 2000 Copies

Sun Bear Concerts, documenting five complete solo performances by Keith Jarrett in Japan, is a milestone achievement in the history of jazz recordings. As DownBeat wrote on the occasion of the original release, Jarrett’s improvisations are “the inventions of a giant, overpoweringly intimate in the way they can draw a listener in and hold him captive. Jarrett has once more stepped into the cave of his creative consciousness and brought to light music of startling power, majesty and warmth.” Rich in incident and detail, the music is beautifully produced, illustrated, and presented in this ten-LP set. First issued in 1978, it revealed Jarrett as a player of limitless creativity, unique in his ability to find new forms in the moment, night after night.

“These marathons showed Jarrett to be one of the greatest improvisers in jazz,” Ian Carr wrote in his biography of the pianist, “with an apparently inexhaustible flow of rhythmic and melodic ideas, one of the most brilliant pianistic techniques of all, and the ability to project complex and profound feeling” continued Carr. The present edition is a facsimile of the original LP set, described by the late Haus der Kunst curator Okwui Enwezor as “part of ECM’s declaration of independence from standard packaging of jazz records. Setting itself apart in this way, ECM treats recordings as works of art by musicians of the highest artistic and conceptual order.”

A work of art by any standards, Sun Bear Concerts brings together solo performances in November 1976 in Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo and Sapporo, in recordings made by Japanese engineer Okihiro Sugano and producer Manfred Eicher, who travelled through Japan with Keith Jarrett. The set’s book-form packaging was designed by Barbara Wojirsch, and includes photographs by Klaus Knaup, Tadayuki Naitoh and Akira Aimi.

Keith Jarrett | Sun Bear Concerts

ECM | US Release Date: March 19, 2021

For more information on ECM, please visit:

Belmondo Quintet - Brotherhood (March 2021 B Flat Recordings)

"Ça tourne, ça groove, ça chante, c'est un album construit sur la joie de jouer." (Le Monde)

"Une petite merveille d'équilibre et d'intelligence" (France Info)

"Le dernier Belmondo est une nouvelle merveille." (La Dépêche du Midi)

Dix ans après leur dernier album commun, Lionel et Stéphane Belmondo célèbrent leurs retrouvailles et la reformation de leur mythique quintet. A la tête d’un groupe en forme de all-stars avec Eric Legnini au piano, la fratrie la plus fameuse du jazz hexagonal célèbre ses maitres à penser et fait la synthèse d’un quart de siècle d’aventures musicales, habitée par une mémoire sans faille et une force spirituelle intacte.
1. Wayne's Words 05:55
2. Yusef's Tree 06:44
3. Prétexte 07:12
4. Doxologie 07:32
5. Woody 'n Us 03:47
6. Letters to Evans 05:23
7. Sirius 07:27
8. Song For Dad 04:02

Lionel Belmondo, saxophone ténor, soprano, flute
Stephane Belmondo, trompette, bugle, conques
Eric Legnini, piano
Sylvain Romano, contrebasse
Tony Rabeson, batterie

Mixage : Tristan Devaux
Mastering : Pieter De Wagter | EQuus Audio

Simon Chivallon - Light Blue (March 2021 jazz&people music)

Nouveau talent du jazz hexagonal, Simon Chivallon présente son premier album en trio, Light Blue. Passant avec un égal bonheur de Monk aux Beatles, de Gabriel Fauré à Georges Brassens, le pianiste assume son amour de la mélodie et dévoile une série de compositions personnelles qui ne manquent pas de caractère. D’une fraîcheur d’inspiration rare, Light Blue impose avec brio le feeling et le lyrisme d’un artiste pour qui le jazz parle d’évidence.

Pour son premier trio, Simon Chivallon a choisi le contrebassiste Nicolas Moreaux et le batteur Antoine Paganotti, les compagnons de route dont il avait besoin. Deux musiciens d’expérience, ancrés dans la culture et la pratique du jazz, dont le tempérament calme et la musicalité incontestée allaient lui permettre de développer de manière fluide et posée ses premiers pas dans la formule du trio qu’il entend bien explorer « toute sa vie ».

Si le jazz est une manière de vivre la musique dans l’instant, Simon Chivallon en est totalement l’incarnation, et chaque solo le démontre par sa spontanéité et sa franchise. Il n’y a pas de place pour les faux-semblants ou pour le maniérisme : ce qui se joue est ce qui vient, une sensibilité qui s’exprime, un talent qui respire, et qui cherche à toucher celui qui l’écoute.

1. Joy 06:19
2. Echoes 04:03
3. Après un rêve 05:24
4. The Wanch 03:21
5. Middle Avenue 04:18
6. Light Blue 04:01
7. Dans l'eau de la claire fontaine 03:49
8. La Mer 04:54
9. Something 03:49
10. A FLower Is A Lovesome Thing 03:51

Simon Chivallon (Piano)
Nicolas Moreaux (Contrebasse)
Antoine Paganotti (Batterie)

Arseny Rykov Trio - Forgotten Melody (April 2, 2021 Rainy Days Records)

I started to compose in music school. Through the years composing and playing music have become the main way of self-reflection and self-expression for me. I have always wanted my music to make people’s souls and minds work and to make them think about what is going on around. From my point of view, an artist has a big responsibility in front of the audience. The responsibility of being sincere, honest, and consistent in what one creates and says. I want to believe that my music is able to unite people. Especially such multicultural and international music as contemporary jazz.

The album includes the compositions that I wrote during the last few years. One can hear a slight change in my style from one tune to another but all of them have two features that are the most important for me: the leading role of the melody and harmony and their fragile beauty.

I am very grateful to the “Rainy Days” label and to Sasha Mashin in particular. People that stand behind the label do a fantastic job to support Russian culture and Russian musicians who play contemporary jazz. –– Arseny Rykov

1. Doubts
2. Faraway Beauty
3. Forgotten Melody
4. Evolutionary Piece
5. Anxiety
6. Breath
7. Broken Watch
8. Outline
9. Musical Box

Arseny Rykov – piano, composition
Nikolai Olshansky – bass
Vitaliy Epov – drums

Musical producer – Sasha Mashin
Executive producer – Eugene Petrushanskiy
Recorded at Cinelab Studio, Moscow Recording Engineer – Sasha Mashin Studio Engineer – Igor Bardashev Mixed by Sasha Mashin
Mastered by Alexander Perfilyev

Benito Gonzalez - Sing to the World (May 14th, 2021 via Rainy Days Records)

Emerging Piano Talent Benito Gonzalez

Releases his Fifth Recording of Originals:

the Inspired, Moving, Dancing Sing to the World 

on St. Petersburg, Russia-based Rainy Days Records

With propulsive pulse and Afro-Latin percussive drive, Benito Gonzalez places rhythm at the core of his exhilarating new album, Sing to the World, set for a May 14 release. All of the ten songs on his fifth album, and first released on the St. Petersburg, Russia label Rainy Days Records, combine to create a sense of wonder and enchantment as Gonzalez takes a stellar step into the future of his jazz journey. He’s assembled an impressive team of collaborators, including Christian McBride, Essiet Okon Essiet, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Nicholas Payton as well as rising stars Russian drummer Sasha Mashin, trumpeter Josh Evans and saxophonist Makar Kashitsyn.

Sing to The World is a musical exploration into the concept of freedom that recognizes the dignity of us all as individuals. Music is the most powerful tool we have to make a change in the world, uniting as one outside of cultural or religious differences. We are living in a world where all are searching for freedom because its inherently valuable role in human progress. Sing to the World is about this universal search for freedom, about being present, being aware, and trying to allow the moment to come to us.

The title track of Sing to the World, with its harmonic invention and pianistic power, is influenced by two McCoy Tyner tunes, “Fly with the Wind” and “Song of the New World.” “McCoy played with so much energy and with such a depth of harmony. If you hear that kind of harmony, you can push the music to its limit. It’s open to infinity. That’s my concept for the whole album—play with openness and trust. That’s what I want to give to the world,” says Gonzalez.

As for enlisting jazz powerhouses in the new album, Gonzalez says McBride and Watts embrace the rhythmic core. “They hear the way I perceive the music. They understand where I’m coming from and execute brilliantly. I like strong beats rooted in Africa which is where my father’s ancestors came from. I like it when people dance to this music. Tain and Christian come from the same place. You can hear the dance beats when they play,” says Gonzalez. “The African sensibility and relationship with the drums has usually permeated the best of jazz and American music. Benito embraces that language as part of his commitment to the spiritual, healing part of the music. As a drummer, it’s really fun to play with and bounce off of, in order to get to a vibration that’s vital and always in style.” explains Watts.

As for bringing Payton on board, Gonzalez says, “Nicholas is the best trumpet player today, and I thought he would be a great addition for my album giving his direction in the music,” says Gonzalez.

Highlights on Sing to the World include Gonzalez’s dazzle of keys on “Sounds of Freedom” which he says is inspired by “the troubling situations in our world today. People are looking for freedom in places like my home Venezuela, in Russia, the U.S. People are searching, fighting for freedom,” says Gonzalez.

Others include “Views of the Blues,” an energized outing inspired by Coltrane’s open-sound sensibility of playing the blues, and the moving, lyrical “Offering,” featuring a terrific McBride solo. “When I was seven years old in Venezuela, I played the organ at church. I was playing beautiful melodies. This song is based on that. It’s not a hymn but a reminder of the hymns I played as a kid. It’s a story. It’s my interpretation of that period in my life,” says Gonzalez.

In addition to his slow-to-upbeat originals, Gonzalez adds to the set list two compositions that have never been recorded by their composers: Roy Hargrove’s soulful “Father”and Jeff “Tain” Watt’s beauty “412.” Benito singles out ”Father” as one of his favorite songs on the album. “It’s about my personal relationship to Roy. In 2006, we attended jam sessions every Thursday night. He sat down at the piano one night and taught me the changes to this song. We played it often, but he never recorded it” he says.

As for the Tain tune, Gonzalez learned it when the two were both teaching summer jazz camp at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC ). “Having known Benito for years, it’s been a pleasure to witness both his growth, and his love and respect for the music in notes and spirit. His seriousness and focus were apparent years ago in the young man I’d chat with during trips; always friendly and seeking, never pushy. I’m proud to see him today as a bright light and leader in the music” says Watts. “I was messing around on the piano one day, and Tain gave me the chart. I’ve always loved this ballad. He’s played it on occasion but never recorded it,” says Gonzalez about “412.”

What’s impressive about Gonzalez is that he’s not willing to sit still for too long. He’s already got future projects in mind. Recently named a Steinway & Sons artist in 2020, emerging piano talent Benito Gonzalez continues to reveals himself as an inspired and versatile artist on his fifth album, Sing to the World.

1. Sounds of Freedom
2. Views of the Blues
3. Father
4. Offering
5. Visionary
6. Smile
7. Sing to the World
8. 412
9. Flatbush Avenue
10. Colors

Benito Gonzalez — piano
Nicholas Payton — trumpet (1,3,6,8)
Christian McBride — bass (2-10)
Sasha Mashin — drums (1,3,6,7,9,10)
Jeff “Tain” Watts — drums (2,4,5,8)
Essiet Okon Essiet — bass (1)
Josh Evans — trumpet (9)

Musical producer — Benito Gonzalez
Co-produced by Sasha Mashin
Executive producer — Eugene Petrushanskiy

Recorded at Big Orange Sheep Brooklyn, NY
Recording Engineer — Chris Benham
Assistant Engineer — Kevin Thomas

Additional recording at Cinelab Studio, Moscow
Recording Engineer — Igor Bardashev
Mixed and Mastered by Mike Marciano of Systems Two

Various Artists - Haute Culture (2021 Rainy Days Records)

When the age of coronavirus commenced last March, Eugene Petrushanskiy, the Director of the Rainy Days Records jazz music label in St. Petersburg, Russia, turned to YouTube to showcase the live performances of his artists in collaboration with Hot Culture. As businesses, and consequently, venues for live performances shut down temporarily, Petrushanskiy sought the help of video producer Alexander Malich, whose YouTube channel Hot Culture would become an online-destination for concert-goers when live attendance became impossible.

The respected jazz label will continue their collaboration with Hot Culture with the launch of a new web series, which will feature performances from a bevy of Russia’s top jazz talent, including Sasha Mashin, Azat Bayazitov, Evgeny Sivtsov, Andrew Krasilnikov, Makar Novikov, and Evgeny Ponomarev. These live performances will be recorded, and subsequently released as a digital album at the end of the season.

So far this year, Hot Culture has planned an episode release every Monday and Friday for the month of February and each episode will showcase two songs from the aforementioned artists. Though Hot Culture is based in St. Petersburg, the channel plans to represent a broader spectrum of artists in this upcoming season, from St. Petersburg and beyond. The upcoming February episode schedule is as follows:

Monday, February 8, Episode 1: The Andrew Krasilnikov Quartet will perform “Babochka” and “Meduza” with Krasilnikov on soprano sax, Aleksey Bekker on rhodes, Nikolay Zatolochniy on bass, and Mikhail Fotchenkov on drums.

Friday, February 12 Episode 2: The Makar Novikov Trio will perform “Jazzmashin” and “Yellow Blues” with Novikov on bass, Mikhail Maryshev on rhodes, and Sasha Mashin on drums.

Monday, February 15, Episode 3: The Azat Bayazitov Quartet will perform “Long Fall” and “Magnet” with Bayazitov on tenor sax, Evgeny Sivtsov on piano, Nikolay Zatolochniy on bass, and Sasha Mashin on drums.

Friday, February 19, Episode 4: The Sasha Mashin Trio will perform “Greensleeves” and “Our Song” with Mashin on drums, Makar Novikov on bass, and Makar Kashitsyn on alto sax.

Monday, February 22, Episode 5: The Evgeny Ponomarev Quartet will perform “Pros & Cons” and “What’s Next?” with Ponomarev on piano, Grigoriy Voskoboinik on bass, Andrey Polovko on tenor and soprano sax, and Peter Mikheev on drums.

Friday, February 26, Episode 6: The Evgeny Sivtsov Trio will perform “Post-wild” with Sivtsov on piano, Nikolay Zatolochniy on bass, and Sasha Mashin on drums.

The Hot Culture Jazz series digital album will be available on February 26, 2021, the same day as the final series episode. Each single performed per scheduled episode will be available via Bandcamp and Apple Music on the episode air dates above. The original Rainy Days YouTube channel with featured Hot Culture episodes is filmed in Russian and includes English subtitles; watch here

“The outcome for us is pretty amazing. It feels like we’ve infused a lot of energy, a lot of time and a lot of forces from different sides,” Petrushanskiy says when reflecting on the progress of the project. “The team was not big. It was quite fun, everyone was happy and enthusiastic to work together.”

Rainy Days Records is a Saint Petersburg-based record label that is changing the global perception of modern Russian music in the global music landscape. Founded in 2018, the label has released myriad albums that demonstrate the stellar musicianship and vibrancy of today’s Russian jazz scene. Acting as a platform for Russian and international musicians, Rainy Days facilitates the creation and presentation of innovative new works and fosters unique collaborations of the finest musicians that Russia has to offer.

The Hot Culture Jazz Series is produced by Alexander Malich & Eugene Petrushanskiy at rainydaysrecords.ru

1. Andrew Krasilnikov - Babochka 06:21
2. Andrew Krasilnikov - Meduza 07:26
3. Makar Novikov - Jazzmashin 07:57
4. Makar Novikov - Yellow Blues 05:37
5. Azat Bayazitov - Long Fall 07:10
6. Azat Bayazitov - Magnet 07:24
7. Sasha Mashin - Greensleeves 04:51
8. Sasha Mashin - Our Song 05:14
9. Evgeny Ponomarev - Pros and Cons 05:35
10. Evgeny Ponomarev - What's Next 06:50
11. Evgeny Sivtsov - Post-Wild 07:49

Changüí – The Sound Of Guantánamo | Available May 14 via Petaluma Records

Brand New, On-Location Recordings from Cuba’s Guantánamo Region Shine on First Ever Comprehensive Collection of Changüí Music 


“I fell in love with Cuba, its people and its music long before making the 
Buena Vista Social Club with Ry Cooder. The country, from Punta de Maisí in the East,
to Maria la Gorda in the far West, the country has so much to offer that even after close on 
30 years of traveling through the island, I feel I’ve only touched the surface and
there is so much music to hear. This glorious set is a case in point. The Guantánamo
region has so much culture to discover. Many musicologists consider changüí the
predecessor of the ‘son’ we recorded on Buena Vista Social Club and I can hear it too.”
— Nick Gold, Executive Producer of Buena Vista Social Club

“If music be the fabric of life in the rest of Cuba then Changüí is existence itself.
It’s as if guantanameros were created solely for the purpose of sharing in the music of
Changüí, to the betterment of the rest of the world”
— Arturo O’Farrill, Founder of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

In Guantánamo, changüí means party. The very word changüí is derived from the Congolese word for party and it’s easy to hear why: This living musical tradition is a joyful bundle of hooks, riffs and foot-stomping choruses played for the sole purpose of celebration, togetherness and inclusivity. CHANGÜÍ – The Sound Of Guantánamo, a 3-CD box set from Petaluma Records, is the first comprehensive collection of changüí music and intimate photographs, bringing a rarely documented living culture and its people out from the shadows.

It has been stated many times, that Cuban culture starts East and moves West, and Guantánamo Province is just about as far East as you can go. This area is the source of much of the Cuban music we’re familiar with.

Independent producer and music journalist Gianluca Tramontana, whose roots music expertise has been featured in numerous pieces for MOJO Magazine, Rolling Stone, NPR and BBC, has been visiting Cuba since the 1990s. On one trip in 2017 to the Guantánamo Province, he observed that of the precious little documentation there is of changüí, almost nothing had been recorded on location in the countryside or villages where the music continues to be performed, danced to, and enjoyed to this day. Through 2019, Tramontana spent several months in this area of Cuba that’s mostly known for its geo-political issues and immersed himself in a largely overlooked 150-plus year-old culture of rural, riff-based, mostly improvised music. He traveled around Guantánamo capturing the music of changüiseros from the mountainous areas of Yateras, where changüí is said to have been born, to Guantánamo City, where it drifted in from the mountains in the early 1900s.

Back in New York, Tramontana shared some of the recordings with an old friend and colleague, four-time GRAMMY® Award-winning producer Steve Rosenthal. Rosenthal, known for his archival and restoration work of Alan Lomax, Woody Guthrie and Les Paul, immediately recognized that Tramontana’s digital recordings were special — that they managed to capture the energy and excitement of the festivities happening in areas of the country not often explored. “Gianluca spent months in the countryside getting to know the people of the Guantánamo province,” producer Rosenthal points out, “so the musicians were completely at ease. We’re listening to a real snapshot of a unique gathering which makes any listener feel like they’re actually there.”

With support from Petaluma Records, mix engineer Ed McEntee and three-time GRAMMY® Award-winning mastering engineer Michael Graves worked with Rosenthal and Tramontana to complete the production of this 50 track, 3 CD collection, curated from well over 200 recordings made in Guantánamo. GRAMMY® Award-winning graphic designer Barb Bersche created the physical design and layout for the packaging and the extensive booklet that accompanies this extraordinary box set, CHANGÜÍ – The Sound Of Guantánamo.

Lunar Octet - Convergence | Available May 7th via Summit Records

A decades-long institution in Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, and also the nearby Metro Detroit area, the Lunar Octet is back with a potent collection of originals inspired by such wide-ranging influences as mambo, samba, funk, Afrobeat and jazz on Convergence. The title itself suggests a confluence of rhythms and styles, and that is precisely what this band of multi-directional musicians has been doing since meeting 36 years ago in Ann Arbor and subsequently recording their 1994 debut, Highway Fun for Schoolkids Records. Reuniting in the studio 25 years later, the members of the Lunar Octet documented their collective growth while remaining committed to their original mission on Convergence, scheduled for a May 7th release on Summit Records.

From the percolating salsa groove of the infectious opener, “Norm’s Nambo,” to the swinging big band flavored chart, “Toote Suite,” the Brazilian music influenced “Mambossa,” the rhythmically charged “Subway Tension”, and the entrancing Afrobeat numbers “Dancin’ in the Doghouse” and “Heart of Congatar,” the Lunar Octet presents a compelling world view of sound. Add the churning “Samba Diabolico,” the buoyantly swinging “Crusin'” (think Neal Hefti arrangements for the mid ’50s Count Basie band), the alluring tango “Until I Find Words” (an clarinet feature) and the rollicking, Brazilian flavored batucada “Samba Over Easy” (reminiscent of Airto Moreira’s “Tombo in 7/4”), and you’ve got a veritable United Nations of sound that you can also dance to.

“The Lunar Octet is like a diamond,” said percussionist and co-founding member Aron Kaufman, called “the soul of the band” by his colleagues. “We’re all different facets of the diamond expressing the singularity of our musical mission. And it’s not about our technique, in terms of us being monster chops players who want to show off how amazing we are. Really, it’s the sum of the parts that brings hope and joy and love to people who come to see us. I believe with all my heart and soul that as artists, if we can lift people’s spirits by showing a love and celebration of the different world musical cultures that we bring to life in our particular special way, we’re bringing some light to the darkness.”

Regarding the group’s long hiatus and recent return with Convergence, Krosnick said, “The early ’90s was the peak time for the band, when we were on national radio broadcasts and playing at major festivals. But then band members moved away. I took a job teaching at Ohio State, Steve Hiltner moved to North Carolina, others moved elsewhere. So we lost momentum. But we rediscovered ourselves five years ago and said, “Hey, this music’s cool, let’s keep doing this.” That reunion came in 2014 with a performance at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor. And regular performances have followed ever since. “It’s been fun to come back with live shows,” said Krosnick. “And now with the release of Convergence, we’re feeling like we can create some buzz about the band and do some touring.”
Krosnick explained that the band’s initial Afrobeat influence came in large part from original bassist Dan Ladizinsky, who names King Sunny Ade as a primary influence. As Jon recalls, “It was literally a garage band in the beginning. Guys were getting together and just trying to groove. The more intricate compositions only kicked in years later when Steve Hiltner joined the band. He brought in some of the more highly orchestrated stuff that’s full of complexities and twists and surprises and unexpected bridges. But it was quite the opposite in the beginning. The original version of the band had no piano player and two bass players and a guitar player, so there was a deep African groove thing happening, like a jam band.”

“I sort of ruined it for the faction of the group that really loved straight-ahead grooves and simple melodic stuff,” said Hiltner. “I started bringing in pieces that were more than just stock 32 bar tunes that could be in the Real Book. I bring a classical element to the band in the motivic development in my compositions, which you can hear on ‘Samba Diabolico,’ for instance.” Of the seemingly disparate musical elements coming together on Convergence, Hiltner, a trained botanist added: “Nature is just miraculous in the way it breaks everything down into constituent parts and then builds something new. I think of the creative process like that. It’s like composting: bringing lots of different elements together so something new comes out of the blend.”

After such a long hiatus from recording, Kaufman is thrilled about the release of the Lunar Octet’s Convergence. “It shows the longevity of our friendships and music all intertwined,” he said. “And music really is an expression of our connections to each other. What we’re doing reflects years and years of building trust and relationships.” He added, “I’m always open to new possibilities. That’s what’s great about the Lunar Octet. Over and over again, one of us has come up with an idea that has musical integrity and a quality that is inspiring and that we are excited about. That’s what makes our music so interesting and varied. And we always support each other to bring those kinds of tunes out. Openness of sharing is an important part of the band. All of the many different musical qualities that we all bring to the table help form a nice balance.”

Norm's Mambo (comp: Aron Kaufman)
Toote Sweet (comp: Stephen Hiltner)
Oye (comp: Aron Kaufman)
Subway Tension (comp: Aron Kaufman)
Mambossa (comp: Stephen Hiltner)
Flugel Tune (comp: Stephen Hiltner)
Dancin' in the Doghouse (comp: Aron Kaufman)
Elephants (comp: Paul Vornhagen)
Samba Diabolico (comp: Stephen Hiltner)
Crusin' (comp: Stephen Hiltner)
Heart of Congatar (comp: Aron Kaufman)
Until I Find the Words (comp: Stephen Hiltner)
Olduvai Gorge (comp: David A. Mason)
Samba Over Easy (comp: Stephen Hiltner)

Lunar Octet is back with a potent collection of originals inspired by mambo, samba, funk, Afrobeat and jazz! RED HOT!!

Brandon Cooper — trumpet, flugelhorn, vocal (track 14)
Stephen Hiltner – alto saxophone, Bb clarinet (track 12)
Paul Vornhagen — tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto clarinet (track 4)
Sam Clark – guitar
Keaton Royer – piano
Jeff Dalton — acoustic bass, electric bass, vocal (track 14)
Jon Krosnick — drums
Aron Kaufman — congas, bongos, vocal (tracks 3, 14)
Olman Piedra — timbales, Latin percussion

Dan Wilson - Vessels of Wood and Earth (April 23, 2021 Mack Avenue Records)

Guitarist/Composer Dan Wilson Calls Attention to the

Beauty of Often Ignored Structural Foundations

of Music and Life with Debut Label Release

Vessels of Wood and Earth, Due April 23,

Marks Second Release on Christian McBride’s Mack Avenue Music Group Imprint, Brother Mister Productions

Wilson Joined by Christian Sands, Marco Panascia,

Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Guest Vocalist Joy Brown

In today’s society, perception over reality influences everyday life. Grand offerings of seemingly luxurious lifestyles flood social channels, offering a glimpse of false security and achievement that rarely lie on a strong foundation. Just as a beautiful house is finished with vessels of silver and gold, underneath lies wood and earth.

On his marvelous new album, Vessels of Wood and Earth, guitarist/composer Dan Wilson takes the title to mean that we as a society tend to look at the shiny exteriors that attract us in an instant, rather than appreciate the less readily apparent structures that actually support the house. Through 11 joyfully dynamic compositions ranging from takes on classic songs from Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Ted Daffan mixed with a nod to the spiritual master John Coltrane as well as five original compositions, Wilson builds a foundation rooted as much in tradition as it is in moving the music irresistibly forward into the modern world.

That structural integrity was front of mind when Wilson set out to craft his label debut for bassist/composer Christian McBride’s new imprint Brother Mister Productions — the label’s second release. “In 2014, I was Artist-in-Residence at the Tri-C Jazz Festival in Cleveland, Ohio,” reflects McBride. “I was involved in numerous performances and outreach events over the course of maybe four days. Terri Pontremoli, director of the festival, has been one of my closest confidants and collaborators over the course of 20-plus years. One thing she had never done during the course of our friendship was the old, ‘I got someone you need to hear’ bit. For that reason, when she did it that year, I was quite surprised. The person she wanted me to hear was guitarist Dan Wilson. When I got to Mahall’s that night and heard him playing solo guitar, I was quite impressed. He was coming straight from that Montgomery/Benson/Burrell/Martino bag that Terri knew I would like. After it was over, I knew that I’d just met someone I should have met a long time before. Dan Wilson is an absolute monster! He has an enviable technique that comes so seemingly easy to him and his pocket is very deep. Now it’s my honor to introduce you to him as a Brother Mister artist. In the words of Terri, "I got someone you need to hear."
Joined by pianist Christian Sands, bassist Marco Panascia, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and guest vocalist Joy Brown, the virtuosic guitarist’s broad musical roots inspired by Motown, gospel and jazz tradition result in a remarkable feel for arrangements. Wilson’s musical explorations allow the band to elevate each passage, aided by his fluid and melodic expression.

Due out April 23, the vividly expressionist recording finds Wilson in the purest of creative strides. “I try to elicit the same kind of visceral response to the music that I get in my gut while making it,” comments Wilson. “I want to convey the joy I get out of making the music.” That joy is deeply rooted in his musical beginnings in the church community, where he was quickly immersed in the rich gospel tradition. But at home, he was exposed to a wealth of music from his father, who played drums and bass, and his mother, a gifted singer.

“My parents loved Motown,” states Wilson. “My father only played at church, never at home, but my mother’s influence on me was amplified by her knowledge of standards and incredible memory for recalling lyrics and God-given natural talents as a singer.” Wilson’s parents exposed him to the great singers like Dinah Washington, Gloria Lynn, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald, which he credits for his arioso approach to solos.

This strong sense of familial leadership continued when Wilson’s uncle introduced him to the world of jazz through the music of Wes Montgomery and his duets with jazz organist Jimmy Smith. “I was maybe 14 or 15,” Wilson reflects, “and my uncle took me into his basement and played me Wes and Jimmy and I was like, ‘Oh, this is it for me. I want to do that! I just want to do that forever.”
Wilson’s career took him on an exploratory journey into those foundations laid down by the guitar/organ tradition, eventually leading to an invitation to perform with jazz great Joey DeFrancesco’s quartet with which Wilson went on to earn a GRAMMY® Award nomination for DeFrancesco’s Project Freedom album (Mack Avenue Records, 2017). This collaboration allowed the guitarist to insert his own dialect into the musical prowess and respect that DeFrancesco had earned throughout his journey. Wilson had been playing with DeFrancesco for a few years when he met bassist, composer, arranger, Christian McBride. “It was just like the first time I met Joey – magic. We played three tunes and from note one, it was like ‘Yeah, we were born to play together.’” From there, Wilson went on to tour with McBride’s trio Tip City, eventually leading McBride to serve as producer on Vessels of Wood and Earth and release the album on his newly formed imprint Brother Mister Productions through Mack Avenue Music Group.

“He’s the same as a producer as he is as a person – what you see is what you get,” laughs Wilson. “Christian understands what it means to be both a bandleader and sideman, so he’s got that unique musical perspective. I’m grateful to experience both the shock and the honor of being on Christian’s label.”

1. The Rhythm Section
2. Bird of Beauty
3. The Reconstruction Beat
4. Vessels of Wood and Earth
5. Who Shot John
6. fter the Rain/Save the Children
7. Inner City Blues
8. Juneteenth
9. Cry Me a River
10. James
11. Born to Lose

Bill Kwan - No Ordinary Love: The Music of Sade (April 16, 2021)

Vocalist Bill Kwan Explores Sade’s Artistry

with an All-Star Group of Distinguished Players

This is no ordinary jazz album. It’s not just that San Francisco vocalist Bill Kwan delves deeply into the songbook of one of the 20th century’s most popular female singers. Slated for release on April 16, 2021 No Ordinary Love: The Music of Sade captures an artist boldly redefining himself. Collaborating closely with a brilliant cast of New York players, he brings a confidently sensuous male sensibility to material defined by the Nigerian-born superstar, whose cool, understated style and regal persona has largely kept other artists from interpreting her songs.

Working again with veteran producer Matt Pierson, whose credits range from Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman and Kirk Whalum to k.d. lang, Laura Benanti and Jane Monheit, Kwan is both reverent and resolutely unprecious in reimagining Sade’s music. In many ways No Ordinary Love builds on his previous project with Pierson, 2015’s Poison & Wine, a pensive and often riveting collection of contemporary indie rock songs by the likes of Beck, Björk, Bon Iver, Gillian Welch, and The Civil Wars.

With Noam Wiesenberg’s bespoke arrangements tailored to the sleek contours of his voice, Kwan finds a way to get inside Sade’s music, navigating treacherous emotional terrain while flipping the gender dynamic in familiar narratives. “It’s very different tackling these songs from a male perspective and I could only sing pieces where I could identify with the lyrics,” Kwan says. “The key was maintaining the intimacy and not over singing. We maintained the fragile quality of Sade’s music even though the feel is very different.”

Kwan is joined by a New York dream team distinguished by deep connections to both the city’s jazz scene and innovative singer/songwriters, starting with pianist/keyboardist Kevin Hays, a veteran improviser who also composes his own songs. Sex Mob and Bill Frisell bassist Tony Scherr and the brilliant Japanese-born drummer/percussionist Keita Ogawa round out the ace rhythm section. Paris-raised Django Festival All-Stars accordion master Ludovic Beier and Russia-reared trumpeter Alex Sipiagin contribute memorable solos.

“Obviously casting is extremely important,” says Pierson, a producer with a deep catalog of career-defining albums by some of jazz and contemporary music’s most influential artists. “Kevin was involved with Bill in the past so he was a natural, but Tony Scherr and Keita Ogawa were also key. The versatility that Tony brings as a singer/songwriter himself is exceptional, and Keita is singular, a drummer with a whole lot of percussion integrated into his set. They’ve got a deep understanding about how to support a vocalist, understanding what not to play. Finally, I’d gotten to know Noam Wiesenberg when we worked together on Camila Meza’s Ámbar project, and felt he would create perfect treatments for many of these songs.”

From the opening track, a gorgeous string-laced arrangement of “The Sweetest Taboo” set to a slinky, predatory groove, Kwan embraces a less-is-more aesthetic. His restraint paradoxically amplifies a song’s emotional wavelength. He’s in the midst of the fierce tango maelstrom of “King of Sorrow,” a lacerating arrangement underscored by Ludovic Beier’s slippery bandoneon and Antoine Silverman’s violin accents. Beier’s harmonica-like accordina brings out the loneliness at the heart of “Jezebel,” a portrait that Kwan renders with gentle precision.

The title track is also the album’s centerpiece, a startlingly effective version of “No Ordinary Love” that captures both Sade’s underappreciated skill as a songwriter and Kwan’s ability to make an iconic tune his own. Propelled by Hays’ funky Fender Rhodes and Scherr’s chunky electric guitar chords, the track pulls off the near impossible feat of standing brilliantly on its own while enhancing the original. With songs drawn from just about every Sade album (and lesser-known pieces she’s contributed to soundtracks), Kwan covers a lot of musical territory, striking pay dirt again and again. From his soothing croon on “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” to the anguished but triumphant “The Big Unknown.”

“The challenge is that her music is so identifiable,” Kwan said. “Even if some of the original productions, like ‘The Sweetest Taboo,’ may not have aged well, her phrasing and approach is so hip. I adopted a very specific rule, singing like you’re not singing, while trying to make sure there’s enough emotion. What makes her music interesting is the repetition. The magic is that hook or melody. Often times Matt would dial me down. He really did guide me with the dynamics of each song.”

Kwan’s mid-life emergence as a jazz-informed vocalist is mostly due to the fact that music is his second calling. A dermatologist with a solo practice in San Francisco, he’s honed his craft at many of the Bay Area’s leading jazz venues. Born and raised in Southern California, Kwan wasn’t particularly drawn to music as a youth. By his early 20s he started getting seriously interested in jazz, finding particular inspiration from the master vocalists he saw performing at the Hollywood Bowl, such as Mel Tormé, Dame Cleo Laine, Nancy Wilson, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Studying medicine at the University of Southern California didn’t leave him much time to pursue his growing love of music, but once he settled in San Francisco he started to seek out opportunities. He spent several years studying with Kitty Margolis, a master teacher and top-shelf jazz vocalist, and took classes at the Jazzschool in Berkeley with vocalist Laurie Antonioli and trombonist Wayne Wallace. Working with bassist Seward McCain and drummer Jim Zimmerman, who both spent many years in the popular trio of pianist Vince Guaraldi, he recorded his 2010 debut album Pentimento, a well-curated program of standards.

Kwan followed up with 2013’s More Than This, a transitional album that ranged from American Songbook fare to Bryan Ferry and Radiohead. It was his first project produced by Pierson, a creative partnership that blossomed with 2015’s Poison & Wine. Undaunted by Sade’s indelible musical imprint, Kwan reveals himself as an artist with a cool and intoxicating sound himself on No Ordinary Love: The Music of Sade, an album that announces the arrival of a potent pop-jazz interpreter.